Ethiopia (and especially the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church) celebrates Christmas on January 7th, not December 25th. The Ethiopian Calendar has different months – and Christmas in on the 29th of Tahsas. Many other orthodox churches around the world also celebrate Christmas on the 7th January. The calendar the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church uses originally came from calendar used by the Coptic Orthodox Church (which is based in Egypt) but now has it’s own special days.
The Christmas celebration in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is called Ganna or Genna. Most people go to Church on Christmas day.
Many people take part in a special Advent fast during the 43 days before Christmas. It starts on 25th November and is known as the ‘Fast of the Prophets’ (Tsome Nebiyat). During this time, traditionally only one vegan meal is eaten each day. It’s a vegan meal because during the fast, foods including meat, dairy, eggs and wine aren’t eaten.
For Ganna, people get dressed in white. Most people wear a traditional garment called a Netela. It’s a thin white cotton piece of cloth with brightly colored stripes across the ends. It’s worn like a shawl or toga. If you live in a big town or city you might wear ‘western’ clothes. People go to church mass on Christmas Eve (called the gahad of Christmas) at 6.00pm and the service finishes about 3.00am on Christmas Day.
The Ethiopian capital city is Addis Ababa. It’s a modern city. Most people who live outside big cities live in round house made of mud-plastered walls which have thatched cone-shaped roofs. Sometimes houses in the country are rectangular and made of stone.
The design of Ethiopian Church is similar to the houses. In the country, they are often very old and have been carved out of rock. In cities, modern churches are built in three circles, each within the others.
The choir sings from the outer circle. Everyone who goes to church for the Ganna celebrations is given a candle. The people walk around the church three times in a solemn procession, holding the candles. They then go to the second circle to stand during the service. The men and boys are separated from the women and girls. The center circle is the most important and holy place in the church and is where the priest serves the Holy Communion or Mass.
Ethiopian Christmas in Ethiopia
In Ethiopia, on Christmas afternoon, a traditional game called Gaana is played. Similar to hockey it is believed to have been played by the shepherds tending their flocks on the night Jesus was born.
When is Orthodox Christmas?
The Orthodox Church recognises January 7th as the day that Jesus was born. Elsewhere in the world, Christmas is celebrated on December 25th.
The difference in the timing of the Christmas celebrations stretches back to 1582, when Pope Gregory XIII, ruled that the Catholic Church should follow a new calendar – called the Gregorian calendar, as it was closer to the solar calendar than the Julian calendar.
History of Orthodox Christmas
The Julian calendar had been established by Julius Caesar in 46 B.C.
Because it was the Catholic pope who ruled on the adoption of the new calendar, many churches not aligned to the papacy ignored it, such as Protestants and the Eastern Orthodox church. Protestants accepted the new calendar in the early 1700s.
In 1922, the patriarch of Constantinople decided that the Gregorian calendar should be followed for the observance of Christmas, but not for Easter, and this edict was followed by many of the other Orthodox churches.
The only Orthodox churches that still observe the January 7th date are the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ukrainian churches, the Serbs and the Mount Athos monks in Greece.